Who is the asylee family living at Columbine?
Leo and his wife Ellie are immigrants fleeing persecution in Cuba and they have a one-month old baby, Emily. Leo applied for, and received, asylum status and Ellie is in the process. Emily was born in the U.S. so she is a citizen.
What does it mean to have received asylum status?
Someone applies for asylum when there is a credible fear of personal violence or persecution in their home country. It is a legal process which, if the seeker is granted asylum status, provides a path to citizenship in the U.S. This is different than Sanctuary in which an immigrant seeks shelter and protection in a church in order to avoid deportation.
How did the family end up here?
An interfaith community group called Community Coalition in Support of Asylees, the formation of which was initiated by members of UUFD Immigration Team, has been studying how to support asylum-seekers for nearly a year. There are about 40 team members from different churches and organizations in Durango but almost half the members are from UUFD. While COVID and White House orders halting asylum applications interrupted their work this spring, they recently received an urgent request for help for Leo and his family when he was granted asylum status and released from detention. CCSA assessed their capacity and felt they could help and agreed to sponsor Leo and his family.
Why are they living in Columbine and for how long?
While Leo is legally allowed to find a job and work immediately, it takes a while for an immigrant family to get on its feet after months of flight from their home country and months in detention. Housing is a major challenge to find and afford, especially during the pandemic. The Immigration Team presented a proposal to the UUFD Board asking for use of Columbine during this time when we are not using it for regular Faith Formation programming. After careful consideration, the Board decided to approve the request. A written agreement with the family spells out expectations for care of the property and the anticipation that Columbine will likely be available to them for at least six months as we wait for regular Faith Formation programming on site to be safe.
How can I help or get more information?
The Community Coalition in Support of Asylees is coordinating activities and decisions to support the family, including collecting donations of furniture, home and personal supplies, and providing other forms of assistance. Liza Tregillus is serving as the lead person for communication and organizing and you can contact her firstname.lastname@example.org for more information . There is a GoFundMe site for donations that will provide some financial support to the family. The goal is to help the family on their path of self-sufficiency and new life of safety and opportunity in our country.
Why are we doing all this?
Quoting our minister Rev. Katie, “As Unitarian Universalists, our principles and liberal religious heritage call us to believe that those being persecuted and in danger of violence should be able to find shelter in the U.S.” We see a moral imperative to doing the work of justice when we can, however we can.